TDS 2019

Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie” (the footprints of the Dukes of Savoie) TDS

A 145 kilometre ultramarathon, the second longest in the UTMB series, from Courmayeur in Italy around Mont Blanc to Chamonix in France. A mere 9100 metres of climbing and descending on some of the most technical of trails in the world. What had I gotten myself into!

After completing the seven sisters in Donegal, I trained for three weeks, keeping things short and sharp and really just minding myself, staying healthy and strong. This involved plenty core work and a focus on balance and strength. I hoped to run a pain free race, in comparison to carrying injury throughout in 2018.

I ate as normal and stayed away, as much as possible from sugar and very little beer or crappy food. Arriving at that start line feeling healthy was my number one goal, everything after that I will explain in my summary of what turned out to be one hell of a race in so many ways! It is impossible to remember it all well and I hope I can give you a small insight into running in the Alps.

Arriving in the gorgeous Chamonix on Sunday I met up with my crew for the event. It is impossible to stress, for me anyhow, how important a crew is. This event would prove me right in this regard. Sinead and Kieron once again joining to help, and spend the week in one of their favourite places (chamonix during UTMB week!). My parents were on holidays in France again in the campervan and drove all the way to Chamonix to support me, and my sister Lisa arrived on Tuesday before the race started at 4am on Wednesday. Absolute legends all 5 of you, and boy did I feel lucky to have one of the biggest crews in the race!

Monday was a rest, sleep and eat day and Tuesday, registration, meeting some of the other Irish athletes and getting the head ready for what lay ahead. I met up with our lead Tailwind ambassador Ryan Hogben and it was great to meet him in person after a long time talking online. I got to bed around 8pm and was up again at 1.30am to get ready for a 2.15am bus to Courmayeur for the start. Around 1750 runners made their way to the start line, over 900 of whom wouldn’t make the finish. Let the war of attrition start !

Kit. I ran in my Salomon s-labs, wore Salomon bag with mandatory kit and 2 x 500ml soft flasks filled with Tailwind,  a singlet (better in a t-shirt in future) and of course my Black Diamond poles on my hip belt. Keep the kit simple and as light as possible. Mandatory kit includes the waterproofs and thermal gear so it isn’t a super light pack but I don’t really notice it anymore.

The nerves weren’t close to as bad as last year and I soaked it all up as Dee and Lisa hung out along the barrier by my side. Runners from all corners of the world gathered in the dark in Cormayeur We had decided that Dee and Lisa would crew at the first big aid station, Bourg Saint Maurice at 50km, and from there Sinead and Kieron would take over for the 90 km Beaufort stop and the 121 km Les Contamines stop. This would give the crews time to rest and make their days a little easier. The route can be seen below, giving you some idea of the map and the types of climbs involved.

The Route
Profile, Checkpoints and Aid Stations

So as I begin to tell this story, almost 2 weeks after the race, it is very hard to explain how I have felt since this race. It was the hardest race of my life, no doubt, and the fact that it has taken me two full weeks to get my head around things in order to write a little, says it all. Most races I am itching to write, this one had me thinking about myself and my future in the sport, leaving me with some very confused feelings that I will try to portray to you in the following paragraphs.

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Almost ready to go.

The gun went off in Courmayeur at 4.01am and I squeezed my way into the top 200 runners, or thereabouts. We ran down the street of  Courmayeur where supporters lined up in their hundreds. From here we turned towards the mountains and the climbing began almost instantly. I had the poles out after about 10 minutes and settled into a steady climb. It was dark for the first few hours and we basically climbed in a massive chain to the first checkpoint at Checrouit and from here we kept climbing to about 2500 metres. There was a sharp downhill from here down into a valley and up to the checkpoint at Lac Combal, where I realised I was already ahead of time but hadn’t pushed hard at all. The daylight had arrived and the sunrise around the steep peaks surrounding the valley were spectacular. I heard my first sound of cow bells in the valley below. This would become a familiar sound as the day went by. At Lac Combal I stopped for a toilet break and managed to eat some fruit and a few bits of cake. In hindsight, I probably should of eaten more early on..

The next section saw a sharp climb to 2600 metres at Col Chavannes. The views here were possibly the most amazing of the entire course with mountains rising into the sky and the valleys below glistening in the early sunshine, which was already heating up a bit. After Col Chavannes I tucked away the poles and got myself ready for a long downhill. It went on and on and on for almost 20 km. Not steep but relentless. I held back as much as I could. I found myself still passing a good few people while one or two runners flew by me, going way to fast for this early on in a race of such magnitude. I would see most of these runners in some format or another later on. I began to recognise maybe 10 runners that would mix and match for about 60 km or so. It began to feel lonely already at 35 km as I realised that very few of the runners spoke english or were up for much chat. This was turning into the pointy end of the race, as I found out as I arrived at Bourg Saint Maurice at 51 km. I had enjoyed the majority of the first 50km, apart from that very long downhill section. I was climbing well, my stomach was good, but it had started heating up alot and the downhills were fast, meaning the body was taking a beating. The mental battle had begun, one third of the way into the race. Physically I was in super shape, but the thoughts of another 100km crept in. I know myself how to deal with tough mental battles but something was taking over in my head and I knew I had a mission ahead!

Dee and Lisa were super in Bourg Saint Maurice and after a mandatory kit check, I left the aid station in good spirits, although roasted!

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I really enjoyed my ginger cake and the fact Lisa informed me I was currently in 153rd position gave me a morale boost. The crowds of supporters and atmosphere here were amazing also.

The next section from 51 to about 72 km included a few absolutely brutal climbs and it was getting warm. I knew the make or break section of the race was basically from 50 to 90 km. This included 2 climbs totalling about 1500 metres and a long descent to Col de Roselend. Lisa and Dee were there to see me and I was flying on this descent, feeling really good. Dee ran over the hill beside me towards the aid station and my heart was in my mouth thinking she could have a fall watching me while trying to sprint over the hill! The climbs were really tough but I was going well and eating as much as I could. I was drinking like a fish and just about staying hydrated. The climb from Bourg Saint Maurice for 6km was over 1300 metres of up and had been the toughest so far but I had taken it reasonably easy and being at 70 km or half way in just over 10 hours and lying in 122 position, you could say all was going to plan.

After Col de Roselend there was yet another mammoth climb and the day was warm at this point. Another 10 km and roughly 2 hours later I was at about 80 km and was beginning to feel crap. As you can see I was averaging 5 km/hr and I was exhausted, a little dizzy, unable to eat, and the climbing was getting slower by the minute. I felt ok on the downhills but the minute I went above 2000 metres I was out of breath and my heart was pounding in my chest. That 10 km had taken me to La Gittaz where a few runners were lying and sitting trying to recover a little. I kept moving as I realised another 10 km and I would be at Beaufort, it would be about 7pm and the night would bring cool air and maybe a new me.

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Leaving Col de Roselend, 10 hours on the go.

The following 11km included a climb from 1664 metres to 2236 metres and then a descent of 8 km to 739 metres in Beaufort. A descent of over 1500 metres was an absolute head melter. I reckon looking back on it, that the pounding the body gets on these downhills was what upset my system and was the main reason I felt so poorly on arrival at Beaufort. I wanted to eat but couldn’t. The fact that you are going up and down to altitude probably has a bearing but all in all I think it’s the pounding and the amount of concentration involved in the sheer technicality of these descents. Boulders, loose rock, gravel, sand, trees and roots from the trees. All this for every descent, most of which were 6km plus. It takes a toll and at 91 km I thought I was beaten. I stayed in the aid station for 50 minutes and in this time I only ate, two small pots of sorbet (kindly found by Kieron) and a bowl of soup with noodles. I ran into the bathroom, overheating for a mini puke and got a full medical check over by the doctor a little after that. To my amazement in the 50 minutes I was sitting down I jumped from something like 105th position to 96th. Runners were dropping like flies. They were asleep in the corners, on beds, getting medical checks and hopping on buses back to Chamonix.

I can honestly say that in my few years ultrarunning this was the closest I have come to a DNF. I felt awful. But Sinead talked to me and told me once medics were happy, I was ok. Having someone there at this point was crucial. The fact that Sinead had Ultra experience and I trusted her judgement was huge. I said I would try and get to the next checkpoint and see how things were then. This after a little ly down with my legs in the air to try feel a little bit better!

A 500 metre climb and about 8 km of distance would get me to Hauteluce. I bumped into a Bulgarian guy on the way and he was suffering from the exact same symptoms as me. We hiked slowly on the uphills, sitting down a few times to try and breath. He was falling asleep while running but we kept each other moving and ran the downhill sections really well. I normally pick things up well at night but the 8 km took two hours and my pace had slowed significantly. I met Sinead down the road from Hautleluce and she said I looked better. I told her I would stick with my new friend and we would help eachother knock out the next big climb to Col de Very and from there up to Col du Joly. At Col de Very I had to say goodbye to my new friend, who had been running in the top 50 earlier in the race, as he hopped into the aid station van for a 20 minute nap. It had gotten dangerous on the descent to this checkpoint as he was falling asleep while running beside a cliff!

On I went, alone again, but I started to run well. The climbs were slow but I felt a little better and even though the humidity of the night meant I was sweating all the time, I felt a little bit of energy returning. The night was clear with stars as bright as I’ve ever seen and the dots of headlights on far away hills showed me that I was still running in a super position and I needed to keep those positive thoughts flowing.  I thought Col du Joly would never arrive but at 20.41 I arrived and would mostly descend from there to Les Contamines Montjoie. Over 11km of a descending. Once again this  felt rough on the body , but I had no muscle pains. At the end of the descent there was a long, long flat section along by a river that wound its way around the town before arriving at Les Contamines Montjoie. I actually opened up the legs a bit and ran this section well, realising I was turning a corner at this point and the bad feelings were starting to disappear.

Sinead was happy to see me in better spirits and after eating and a quick toilet break I decided to move quickly and start the next climb. “I’m not stopping you, I’m actually asking you to get up and leave, you have this”. were Sineads words.  There were two sections to the next climb. A huge steep section that must of taken 40 minutes to ascend followed by an even steeper climb up to the Col de Tricot at 2105 metres. This was an absolute killer climb. I sat down twice to try and get my breathing down and eat something. I failed but managed to keep drinking coke and water and at the top I knew that was my last really big one in the bag. Nine or so Carrauntoohill Mountains under the belt in one sitting, most of which started at the same height as the top of this very mountain! I looked back into the night and down the vast steep trail of switchbacks I had just climbed. The headlights dotted the landscape, all moving at my slow pace at this point. I was passed by a few and I managed to overtake a few runners throughout the last few hours, but I wasn’t too concerned about placing, it was all about surviving. That last climb was probably my slowest ever with my pace around 2.96km/hr. But I was at the top in about 2 hours and 30 minutes from Les Contamines and it was 4.30 in the morning. I had just bagged a PB for my longest over run, over 130 km and with a 9km descent to Bellevue and then Les Houches, I was on the home stretch. At this point I just wanted to keep the legs moving and a top 100 finish would be a super bonus. I ran the downhill well again and had the privilege of high fiving two mailboxes as I arrived into Les Houches, convinced they were two kids out on the course. Yep I was tiring! I arrived in Les Houches in 26 hours and 9 minutes and would turn the corner after a reasonably flat 8 km along the river in Chamonix just over an hour later. This section was probably the most enjoyment I had all day. That was after I tried to eat some cake in Les Houches and ended up vomiting under a tree for a minute or two as the system rejected food once more!

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I ran a steady pace into Chamonix and the streets were quiet as I arrived. Some runners were out for a morning stroll and clapped me on. I saw the finishing street and there was Lisa, Sinead, Kieron, Dee and Pat all waiting to cheer me in. I grabbed the Irish Flag from Lisa, a tradition in UTMB to show where you are from and ran across the line to what was more a massive relief that anything. You are so tired it is hard to say how amazing it feels but knowing I came so close to not finishing was what gave me this relief. I was in 92nd out of 1091 finishers, 81st Senior male and in a time of 27.11.

Results

Not too shabby for one hell of an adventure, not only for the body but most definitely for the mind.

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As I mentioned earlier in the post, I was confused as to what this race did to me as a runner. I realise now how far I can go and maybe even further. I realise the mental battle often talked about and how it is hell to be as low as you get but is bliss when you pull yourself out of these lows and finish. I feel now like I am more motivated than ever to trail run, I feel it is a bigger part of my life in so many ways than it was even a year ago, I feel so lucky to be able to compete and complete such events as TDS and lets hope I can stay healthy and fit for years to come to enjoy it this much. Thanks to everyone that encouraged me and followed the progress throughout. I know a few of you were glued to it. Hopefully there will be plenty more to come.

The biggest thanks obviously goes to the crew. Ye were what made this one possible.

 

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The best crew and Kieron still at work on the camera! Pat didn’t sleep a wink and nodded off for the photo! 

 

 

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My Summary of 2018

It wasn’t until I started to look back at my blog that I realised how busy a year it was in  2018. I raced in adventure races and ultras, did an incredible amount in training and managed to move countries, find a new job and move house three times, ending up living in my camper in Dorset in the South of England. It was one of the busiest years of my life, even though I only worked 5 months of the year!

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January 2018

The year started with a lovely camper trip around a few parts of Ireland and between hill runs and dips in freezing water we started the year in style. Little did I know the mileage the van would do in 2018 as well as the mileage my own legs would end up covering. I won’t go into the stats in a big way but I ran 5 Ultras from 50km to 100km, 3 marathons and an adventure race. My average training for the year was 10 hours a week both on the bike and running, with running winning out by a massive margin this year.

February 2018

My first ultra of the year in Donadea, a flat but fast 50km on the forset trail, finishing in 3 hours and 50 minutes. I was happy with my first ever looped and predominantly flat ultra. This was a great leveller and a super way to see where I was fitness wise after the winter. My plan in 2018 was to try to enjoy every race and training and smile whenever I had the energy on those trails. I think my photos tell their own story.

March 2018

The lads after Gaelforce Dublin. My first time doing this race and it was the week after Donadea. Maybe not the greatest race planning but I was happy with 4th place and again a good fitness session. I was starting to ramp things up.

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April 2018

The Maurice mullins 51km ultra over the Wicklow hills was a super out and back race. The weather was really kind on the day and I finished a very respectable 7th overall. I paced myself well throughout and used this as a training race. It was good to train in race scenarios and get used to my normal pace over these massive distances.

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May 2018

The first of 2 huge races this year was the Transvulcania Ultra, an absolutely epic race,. It was technical under foot, hot, with relentless climbs and a mixed bag of weather to put you in the pain cave. We had rain, wind and baking heat over the course of a 9 hour and 50 minute race where I hit the wall 5 km from home only to pick myself up, just in time to knock back a beer on the home straight thanks to some supporters. I finished well inside the top 100 in my first really big international ultra. The highs and lows of ultrarunning really came to the fore in this race.

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First big one of the year! Ouch!
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June 2018

From La Palma and the heat to the Exmoor trail marathon and my first podium of 2018. I cruised around this course and felt really good throughout finishing third in 4 hours and 1 minute. A very respectable marathon time with 2500 metres of ascent in the race.

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July 2018

In July it was back to Snowdonia for the marathon and another tough day. It might of been a little reminder that I needed to take things easy with the CCC around the corner. I suffered at times during this tough marathon over some really hard terrain. I managed to knock 2 minutes off my 2017 time but realised my body was in need of rest if I was to give the CCC a decent effort in just over a months time. A great holiday in Sweden in early August really helped get the body ready for what lay ahead.

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August 2018

Smiling at 55km into the CCC, the most amazing race of the year. I had highs and lows but the good times were certainly worth the wait. I will never forget running into Chamonix with Emma by my side on the camera and my folks at the finish line. Without Emma, my family, and friends such as Sinead Keogh, the race would of been much harder and lonelier and from there you don’t know how things will go. My finishing time of 16.01 was good enough for top 100 men in the race and really an incredible placing out of 1600 runners. I managed to make up close to 40 positions in the second half of the race. What a day and night it was.

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September 2018

Back to Ireland in the Autumn for a cross country and running with Castlegar is always a proud moment. We managed county medals again and every chance I get I like to run with the club. A PB of 17.10 in the 5km and a good 36.40 in a 10km were other highlights. Nice to keep up some speed considering I don’t train on the road often or do enough interval training .

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December 2018

To finish the monster of a year of ultra running a 10th place finish in the Dorset Ultra plus was a super result, one hampered by an extra 30 minutes on the trail with a wrong turn, but then maybe after a year with such mileage and effort on the trail this was inevitable! Mistakes happen both with tiredness and complacency. I finished this ultra really strong averaging 4 to 5 minutes per kilometre over the last 20km. Thanks to Adam Gamble for making it a super way to finish the year.

2019 looks interesting with a massive result in the UTMB draw this week. I was pulled from the hat for the TDS and will take on the new mammoth 145km course on the 28th of August all going well. Between that and the Lavaredo Ultra 125km, on the 28th of June, I will plan my year.

I am lucky enough to be a Trailblazer for 2019 with Tailwind nutrition and you will see me promote them even more this year. Without Tailwind the likes of the CCC would of been trickier both logistically and from a nutritional direction.

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The view heading west to my new training ground of West Dorset. 

I will also spend 2019 as an ambassador for Uglowsport and look forward to trying out their gear during the year. I apologise in advance for the constant tagging of both them and Tailwind in all posts!

2 Weeks Later

Thank you so much to everyone for the amazing response to the race report post. I wasn’t sure if I was getting the real race feel across properly but it seems you have all understood. It means the world to hear such positive responses from friends and blog followers.

Just before I start, I have added to my training plan section with an ultra and a half marathon, or thereabouts, race plan. You can go through the link above or just click on “Training” link on my home page on the site. Remember these are only rough guides, it isn’t about sticking exactly to these plans. You can tweak them in a way that suits you and your lifestyle. I hope to post a few more and some multisport plans soon.

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Hiking to Brevent near Chamonix a few days post race

And here are the Results from the CCC, UTMB.

So this time two weeks ago I had just registered in chamonix for the CCC. There have been many questions asked about the race and my race report, but it is still so hard to explain what UTMB races are like.  I have been recovering well and apart from an issue with my left leg, which I spoke about mid race, I think I’m doing ok. There is no doubt that I will need more time and the proper rehab to come back fully fit from this one. I have been doing lots of glute work, balance work and taking every piece of advice I can find on stretching, balance and strength work for IT band syndrome. I know it is in my quad and IT band that the issues are so it is about focusing on them and feeling my way back.

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A bit of Technical trail

I’m still on a bit of a buzz after France, it really fires you up knowing there are so many other challenges you can go back to over there. But what is next?

I will, no doubt throw my name in the hat for a race over there net year. At the moment I am swaying towards the CCC again or possibly the TDS. The UTMB requires 15 points over 3 races, meaning I would need to complete another 100km plus race before christmas. That is not going to happen this year! I have plenty of time to decide. At the moment life is about finding work here in Bristol and once I have that I will know if I can race at all next year. I hope to be back running enough over the next few months to do one more ultra before Christmas, just to keep the distance in the bag!


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The winter is a great time for training. A focus throughout the darker months is important and I have some ideas in mind this year. First of all I’m getting back on the bike, which I have already started since CCC. Secondly I have started playing a bit of football again, crazy I know risking injury a bit, but I am new to Bristol and it is about making friends. Thirdly I will run a few times a week and hopefully at least once on the trails at the weekends. This all building up to a little event next March? I won’t mention the name just yet as I haven’t decided 100%. For those of you back home I think you have a fair idea where I hope to be on the 23rd of March 2019!

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These typical alpine views keep you going through the months of winter training!

My only other plan for 2019, at the moment, is to enter the draw for the Laveredo Trail Ultra in the Dolomites in Italy. No doubt it is one for the bucket list. This tends to be an easier draw to get through so fingers crossed. I will also throw my name in the massive and almost impossible hat for The Western States draw in November. This is one of the most iconic races in the world but the draw can take years before you have a chance. I have a chance to enter as a finisher of the CCC in under 25 hours, so why not!

As running has become such a big part of my life these goals are essential. Many ultrarunners burn out after a big race or take alot of time off. I think it is important to get back on the trails as soon as the body is ready and have these goals to fire you on.


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CCC 2018 race report

There are times in your life that you realise how much we all change as life goes on. Only two years ago I swore I would never do a marathon and that adventure racing was the only thing for me. Now here I was, standing on the start line of one of the most iconic ultramarathons on the planet, The CCC, (Courmayeur- Champex lac- Chamonix), Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, only a few rows back from the pros and the thoughts running through my head were incredible. This would be my 4th ultra of the year as well as two trail marathons on top of that. The most important thing I was telling myself was to ease into it, remember all my experience and enjoy the day. 


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Myself and Owen Boyhan at the start of the CCC 101km.

The best thing about this race was the fact that I would have crew support in the latter stages and I had the chance to race with fantastic runners, like Owen above. Such a gentleman and all round just loves the sport. He is fully fanatical and it helps so much bouncing things off other runners before the race starts. Emma would be my tent crew and Sinead and Kieron would be the word in my ear as I entered and left. Little did I know how important a crew really is. I have heard all these mushy stories about how a familiar face can really pull you through the hard times in Ultras. Being honest I thought it might help but never as much as it actually turned out. My parents would be at the finish line and there was no way I was going to leave them hanging out there all night! 

For anyone that has 5 minutes and less time to read my report there is a video summarising my day if you scroll to the bottom of the post, or a link here. 

The UTMB race series is the biggest trail running event in the world. Over 10,000 athletes arrive with another 20,000 supporters and crew to the little alpine town of Chamonix for a week of running, good food and fun. Myself and Emma arrived on Tuesday night, I spent Wednesday crewing for Shaun Stewart as he completed the TDS, a mere 123km and over 7000 metres of ascent. Thursday was spent in Chamonix, registration along with 2147 other athletes and some time eating and chilling before an early night in preparation for the race Friday.  Before I launch into the race report I want to mention something that was said to me by a few supporters and non runners. They said that no matter what you tell people, there are no words to explain what these races are really like, what they do to the competitors and what the feeling of finishing is like. You have to see the race or experience it to really get the idea. I will try to put in words what my day was like on the 31st of August 2018.

We hopped on the first bus at 6am to arrive in Courmayeur Switzerland at 6.45am. The race wouldn’t start until 9 but being my first time I had decided to air on the side of caution for everything. The morning was calm, about 12 degrees and dry. The mountains loomed on every side of this beautiful alpine town and the buzz was gradually building. What better time for a quick nap! 

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Chilled pre race! 

I have to say I was pretty relaxed, excited and the body was feeling very much like a run. I hadn’t ran all week, bloody crazy I know, but you can’t beat the feeling of hunger to run before an event. 

The mandatory kit, water and some food added up to almost 3kg on my back and I kept my phone and Black Diamond carbon poles on my Arch max belt around my waist. I would run in shorts and socks with Salomon S-lab ultra runners and a cycling jersey on top with my foldable mug/bowl tucked in the pocket. It was a “no plastic bottle” race so we had to carry a cup/bowl for the aid stations. A super idea in my book. 

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Yup it’s official.

It was 8am, a last queue for the bathroom and on to the start line. I soon noticed that I would be in the first wave/pen alongside the elites and the pros. I hadn’t expected it to be easy to try and start in the top 300 but it turned out I was standing somewhere in the 200-300 group as we lined up (This is decided by your ITRA points from qualification races. Basically to do with where you finished in these races, therefore it tends to be accurate in terms of where you stand). The crowd gathered quickly and the anthems of Switzerland, France and Italy were played around 8.40 as the tension really started to build. The race of course passing through all three countries over the route. To give you an idea of how much it means to people and their families, there were numerous people crying and the emotions were running very high. It may of taken years of preparation or be a life goal for many to stand here on this line. The level of athlete was clearly high with streamlined people all around me, buzzing to get on the move. TV helicopters and drones hovered above as an Irish guy gave the introduction to the race. Weird to here an Irish accent announcing the race here in the middle of the Alps. Before I knew it the count down was on and the gun went off. This was really happening and now all I had to do was put one foot on front of the other for somewhere between 14 and 27 hours. No problemo!

Goals, times, places and pretty much all that side of things quickly went out of my head as I decided to race the first half of the race steadily, not go into the red at any stage in this period and hopefully be in a position to improve on my placing as the race progressed. Whether this would unfold or not was a mystery. 

From the outset my nutritional plan was to stay away from gels, eat and drink almost only Tailwind and hopefully be hungry enough in aid stations later in the race, to eat some real food. The Tailwind has been tested for nearly two years now and I have to say it is the best thing I have ever found. From the off I sipped away on my bottles, drinking lots, ingesting the Tailwind in my water and therefore taking in calaries (200 per sachet) as well as lots of electrolytes. 

The first 10km of the race are basically uphill with a few little runnable narrow trails. From the start we wound are way around the streets of Courmayeur and up along a winding road before stepping onto the single trail in a conga line of runners. The crowds along the road in Courmayeur and pretty much in every town all day were incredible. As we arrived at the single trail, I quickly took out my poles and would use them for every climb all day. We gradually climbed from 1000 metres all the way to 2500 metres, fast hiking the uphills and jogging the downhills and flats. If I felt an increase in heart rate, which I generally didn’t, I would ease off a little. I didn’t wear my heart rate monitor as it is only another distraction and also drains the battery on my watch a bit faster. Listen to your body is the name of the game. Up and up and up we went, above the treeline, checking out the town of Courmayeur below, now in the distance. This was amazing. As we started the final 500 metres of the climb, the live camera helicopter hovered over us throwing dust all over the mountainside and creating an amazing atmosphere. I felt really comfortable on the climb and after about two hours I was on the top of Tete de la Tronche and through the first marker. From here we descended on a really runnable open trail all the way to Refuge Bertone at the 15km mark. The downhill was class and easy but I did hold back as I didn’t want to burn the legs too early. What I didn’t realise was that this was one of a few really nice descents and that the majority of descents later in the race were steeper and far more technical. I stopped in Bertone for some nice orange slices, some watermelon, a baby snickers and topped up all my water with Tailwind. Goal one over, now lets go find the next checkpoint!

The next 7 km was all along nice rolling terrain, technical in parts but I ran most of it and the field was starting to spread out into little groups. I could see I was generally in the same group that I had started in and took comfort from this. The views as we arrived at Refuge Bonati were spectacular with a vast line of massive steep mountains to the left of the trail on the other side of a valley below. Unfortunately my go pro camera was acting up a bit at this stage and I could only take videos. These are in the clip below. The trail was still very open and nice to run at this point. Small climbs meant slowing down and hiking and then rolling off the top of them and onto the winding trails again. I topped up on water in Bonati and realised the next stop was at Arnouvaz at the bottom of the valley. This would involve a big descent. I was half way down when I went to suck some water and found that one of my soft flasks was gone. Would I be running another 75km with only one water bottle. Slight panic set in for about a minute until I calmed myself and told myself that I could drink more at the checkpoints and then fill up in streams when needed. All would be fine. I cruised down to Arnouvaz at 27km and felt I was doing ok. I came across a big heard of alpine cattle on the trail and took a slight detour around them, not knowing how pleased they were with all these mad people carrying poles on their territory. I had just had my first pee and realised I would need to keep topping up on water and drinking as much as I could. Running at over 2000 metres for the first time ever with climbs like these was causing me to lose fluids the instant I consumed them. The really interesting thing was that when I drank, within minutes I was pouring sweat again. Logical you would think, but it made me decide that I wanted to be sweating all day. If I was sweating I was hydrated, if not I was running out of fluids. Simple but I’ve seen it go wrong before! Just before arriving at the checkpoint I spotted a soft flask on the side of the trail. Karma you might say but I was back to two bottles, nice one! 

After Arnouvaz I ran along the river and at a crossing there were dozens of kids out cheering us on. As I approached the far side of the river, beside the kids, the guy on front of me fell and I landed on his back on the ground. Hilarious for the kids. I picked him up and on we went. It just goes to show how easily a fall could end your race. It wasn’t long before the second big climb of the day. I locked into gear and started to fast hike as best I could. It turned out that my hiking uphill was really steady and would continue this way all day. I felt strong, as I was holding back a bit on uphills. All the hill repeat training was paying off. The top of this second climb, called Grand Col Ferret at around 2500 metres is on the border of Italy and Switzerland. After about 2200 metres the weather had changed and I had thrown the jacket on. The mist made it a little cold and my hands were cold on the poles so I grabbed my gloves. I passed a good few people on this climb, enjoying it a lot. It was after summitting Col Ferret and starting the decent towards La Fouly that I started to feel the downhill legs burning (mostly my quads). The descent was full of switch backs, running on hard mud and then much more technical towards the bottom. I passed through a scanning checkpoint half way down and from this point on the trail got steeper and it started to takes it’s toll. Towards the bottom of this descent of about 11km I came across a gravel fire road and then onto a paved road, running in a group, but this group soon left me behind. I was slowing on the road (as usual), the downhill on pavement beginning to hurt the legs. I let the group go, knowing I would see the majority of them again and there was no point burning too hard just now. The rain was now pouring down but with my Salomon jacket I was comfortable. La Fouly, at the end of the first marathon of the day, was busy. Some people were changing clothes but I decided it was only 17km until my first assistance checkpoint at Champex lac and if I kept moving I would be warm enough. We were also descending a lot over that 17km with one climb up to Champex so I didn’t expect to be cold in this section. It was like a soft Irish day after all, nothing out of the ordinary. I had a drink of coke, some oranges, another snickers and filled my bottles. My thoughts were, don’t stop when you feel a bit low, get going and run it off. 

The marathon had taken me almost 6 hours but on this terrain that was ok and it also meant I was bang on where I wanted to be. I had no idea at the time but I was around 204th position overall. I had decided pretty early in the race, on seeing the type of climbing and the terrain involved that today was about finishing, maintaining as good a pace as my body would let and learning for the future. After that everything was a bonus. From La Fouly to Champex was a long downhill slog. My old pain behind my left knee, floating down my leg, almost into the top of my calf muscle was flaring up. I stopped to stretch it out a bit, do some leg swings and on I went, descending down on paved roads, fire roads and then more paved road through tiny little farm villages. I began to lose some places but then picked up a few as well. As I ran a fellow Irish runner, passed me. I picked up the pace to say hello. Stephen told me he was from Dublin but leaving in Hong Kong for years. Another runner travelling a long way for this race! After about 12km of downhill I could see Champex up on the hill and realised that a 500 metre climb would bring me to food and the company of my crew. Bring it on.

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Arriving in Champex Lac, just over half way at 55km and happy out.

I was delighted to see Sinead and Kieron outside and Sinead told me she would see me at the exit again. I entered the tent and Emma was there with all my kit ready. It was great to see her and she informed me I was looking fresh and in great shape compared to others that were passing through. I ate a small bowl of meat and pasta, a bar and some sweets for dessert and drank some water. I changed my wet top and the dry t-shirt felt great. A few minutes later I emerged from the tent, a new man. It had been a fairly low 17km before Champex. I gained 8 places in leaving the checkpoint in good time. I ran along the amazing lake beside Champex and Sinead kept me company. She told me ” your race starts here, this is when you come into your own, you have it in the legs and we will see you again in 18km”. These words were hard to believe as I really wasn’t sure I had it in me like that, but I took them in and decided if Sinead, an accomplished runner, had this faith in me, it must be true. Right, let the race begin!! 

After a kilometre or two on the road I was back on the trail and it wound its way along for a good few kilometres, some of this on a fire road before the next 1000 metre climb started. I was in the middle of a few strong climbers and I decided to stick with them. I could see two of the guys were particularily strong and I called this right as the three of us soon dropped another three as we ascended. Relentless is a handy word for this climb. It was incredibly steep and technical. The inside of my elbows started to cramp but soon stopped. All the work my arms were doing was new to them. I had told myself that once at the top I had more than half the days climbing in the bag and almost 4 Carrauntoohils (Irelands highest peak). Only two more of those to go until the finish. This climb and the next few were all in the forest. The summits were just above the tree line at around 2000 metres. I climbed watching the altitude rise on my watch. I was counting it down 100 metres at a time, still feeling strong on the up and hoping the downhill leg pain might ease with the break. 

At La Giete, the top of the climb, I had gained 11 places, not that I really knew this, but I did know I was moving well on these climbs. I was drinking a huge amount, with Tailwind, and stopped to top up both bottles. The volunteers here were dancing around to music and having fun. They had been amazing at every stop all day and this was a lift to people. They told us there was a 5 km descent over 600 metres to Trient. My next chance to see Emma, change, eat and get ready for darkness. 

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Leaving Trient 7.51pm, a grand picture with the bathroom!

My leg was fine on the descent until the last 200 metres on the fire road. The light was fading but I knew I was timing it nicely before it died completely. I arrived in Trient, filling my water up on the way in with Sinead running alongside me. She was told to head into the spectator tent, which she did by jumping over a barrier at the last second. Nicely done Sinead! Emma was set up and ready in the tent and I told her I was feeling well and felt I had smashed that last section. She got me some tea with sugar, hot soup with rice and I changed into my thermal top and headlight for the night ahead. I ran out of Trient as the light was starting to fade. A long straight path followed and then into a 700 metre climb, similar to the last one, awaited. It took me about an hour and ten minutes to reach the top and I was passing people constantly throughout. Almost 5000 metres climbing under the belt, I arrived at Tseppes at 8.40pm, 11 hours and 40 minutes of racing under the belt and 76km. I started to realise that I only had just over a half marathon left and my second marathon was almost complete. Who would of thought the second one was almost more comfortable than the first. You may be thinking I’m making this sound kinda easy, but that is what we do when we are going well. The reality was that I was just about staying out of the red and had to push harder and harder on the climbs to keep pace, before concentrating on the descents. It was taking it’s toll and I was really feeling the brunt of all the downhill. 7km of downhill followed from Tseppes to Vallorcine. My leg was now screaming, but just about manageable. I wasn’t able to descend fast but I could run most of it which felt good. Lots of zig zagging, running under bridges and along footpaths followed before Sinead met me at the entrance to the checkpoint at Vallorcine. My headlight had been poor since I switched it on near the top of the climb and my plan was to switch to my other headlight before leaving on my final push to the finish. Emma was waiting and explained that they had barely made it on time to meet me. I had expected this as they explained it might be the case. The fact that they had made it was a big boost and made things alot less stressful for me. Once again being fed and watered, as we say in Ireland, helped a great deal, not to mention the fact that I only had 18km to the finish line in Chamonix! 

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Big smile for Castlegar Running club, only 18km to go!

I left Vallorcine and switched on my headlight to be delighted with my new found light. The previous descent had been so tough, not only with pain in leg but with the technical trail that I could barely see. I was psyched up now, the finish line in sight. The trail wound up a gradual slope on a farm road from Vallorcine, onto a long stretch of main road and then on crossing the road I started the climb from Tre Le Champ to La Flegere. Of course having not studied the course in detail I was unaware that this was split into two big climbs. The climbs were extremely steep, the first going up to about 1700, descending to 1400 and then back up to 1950metres. Mighty craic when your legs have very little left. The really fun part here was the descent after the first climb. It was actually a detour last minute as a climber was killed in a rockfall here a few weeks ago. This descent was incredible tough, jumping over boulders and massive roots, loose rock and the odd trail runner slowing to a stop! I spotted some lights just off the trail at this point and realised a huge group of hikers were lying under a massive rockface in their sleeping bags.  The second climb ended up following a ski field all the way up to La Flegere. It was midnight and the stars were out. My whole body wanted to stop and have a rest but I knew I just needed to throw myself 900 metres and 8km’s down the mountain to Chamonix. I had been semi-hallucinating for the last hour with my headlight making the grass move and things were a little weird to look at at times but with a cup of tea and a swig of coke I was off again. A lady passed me in the tent and literally sprinted down the mountain on front of me. Incredible! 

With 6082 metres of climbing under your belt you would think a little 8km to a finish line would be a piece of cake. Well, not so much. Pretty much every step hurt like hell. I was ok on the winding trails but the steep fire road sections were pure pain. I was, however, still running. The trail passed through a restaurant, literally through the outdoor seating area, closed at 12.30am of course and on down the mountain I went. I finally came to the town and bridge number one of two crossings of the road and river. Climbing up those steps was something else this close to home. I fell twice on the first bridge! These were my first slips in 100 kilometres, thankfully. I ran along the river, passing two and being passed by one before reaching the centre of town and there was Emma to run the final 500 metres home. The relief was amazing. I was almost there. Sinead and Kieron were out and following me, somehow scooting from the 500 metre to the 100 metre marks in seconds! I saw the line and lights and then my parents on the side. Holding back the emotions, really being too tired to cry I crossed the line 16 hours and one minute since leaving Courmayeur. I was in 163rd position making up 40 places in the second half. Holy crap that was pure madness, but one hell of an experience.

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The Irish on the finish line! 

As I stood at the line all the last energy drained and I became weak and cold instantly. A shuffle home to bed was needed. I didn’t sleep as my body was completely beaten up as well as excited. I was able to make the finish again to see Owen arrive in the morning. A job well done. 

It had worked, my pacing was a success, my training got me around and I felt as if I might even get better. It is such a fragile thing running 100km or really running anything further than a marathon. You really don’t know what is coming next. Bit by bit I am learning that experience is the key but you can never be over confident. The body will shut you up in a heart beat. The mind will continue to do somersaults.

Check out my Times and Stats here


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10 days to the CCC

What do I do training wise, taper wise now? Will I risk injury by training more? Have I lost some fitness on holidays? Have I raced too much this year already? Am I perfectly ready for it? These are the questions to be answered carrying on from my post the other day.

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One more Swedish memory!

The key with any race, but particularly one you have had to qualify for and be lucky enough to be successful in a draw for, is to make the start line in one piece. I could try putting pressure on my training for a few days, as it is still 10 days away but I have decided to try and be a bit smarter. I ran on Sunday with an hour of hill repeats,(mainly to practice with my poles. I was lucky I did as one of the poles was stiff and needs attention). On Monday we went for  a little kayak on the River Avon, yesterday I did a bike and core session and today I will go for a short run in the evening. This still leaves me 10 days short of race day. My general plan is to keep things as normal as possible, eating properly, training daily (but a lot less than normal) and from Sunday on, race prep and more rest.

Of course at this stage I won’t get any fitter or stronger but the key is to stay loose and feel strong. I feel that since Snowdonia in mid July I have trained very carefully and am more rested than I was prior to that race. At least that should be the case, fingers crossed.

So what are my goals for next week?

As discussed the number one goal is to stand on the line, two is to enjoy the race and three is to finish. On top of this I would like to push myself for the top 100 and I will only really know mid race if I will be capable of this or better. I am not putting big pressure on myself. After all there is over 6000 metres of ascent and only once in my life have I ran further than 100km. Sure it is only 2 and a half marathons in the Alps! This said I am gaining experience in every race and feel mentally ready for this one. There will be major up and down periods in the race but as I always say, if you focus on the good times, you will battle through the bad, knowing there are more good ones to come. Might sound a bit on the silly side but in ultramarathon running positivity can be the difference.

I don’t really intend to set split times along the course. This might put too much pressure on and I would rather pace myself according to feel. The one thing I intend to do is start with a good climb in the first 5km and get a reasonably nice position early on. I have been informed that if you go out very slowly the bottlenecks on the narrow trails will increase and this can cause you to slacken off your own pace. I have also experienced getting considerably cold in these situations in the past.

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CCC Course Profile

The most exciting part of this event is the fact that this will be my first ever race in the Alps, not to mention a pretty prestigious one at that. I will see lots of the pro runners and will have the opportunity to follow all the races, including supporting Shaun Stewart on his TDS 120km race on Wednesday and watching the UTMB 170km race on Saturday, the day after the CCC. To make matters even more exciting Emma will be there as well as Sinead and Kieron (my well known running buddies) and a chance of my folks showing up in their campervan too I’ve heard. I must race in amazing places in Europe more often!

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CCC 101km course, Courmayeur to Chamonix, (Italy-Switerland-France)

So I hope to check in here again later in the week or early next week for a final pre race post. In the meantime it is back to the Bristol job hunt and time to start gathering race kit from all corners of the house.

2018, What lies ahead

I am not quite sure how to top 2017 or where 2018 will take me in terms of this blog. It is a great way for me to follow my own training and racing as well as life in general. I also hope some of my followers are gaining something, if only small, from my posts. It was a nice end to 2017 or start to 2018 really to receive a nice reward from Highpoint Ireland. This link shows the accomplishments of the people that entered their stats into the High Point of the year competition. I used these results more to see the results of the stats that Kieron Gribbon put together and realise what was achieved in 2017. Nearly 21000 metres of ascent in Ireland in 2017 will no doubt be hard to top in 2018, but where there is a challenge there are always possibilities.

I think it is very important to mention that without running mates and family it would be near impossible to ever achieve these goals. Shaun Stewart, if I can mention him again, had an amazing year in 2017. He finished a great year with the birth of his son Joey (future Irish ultrarunning champion no doubt!). He gave me the push to go for the CCC trail race in 2018. Without the likes of Shaun and all the other people connected to my racing there is no way I would keep up the effort. We all need good friends like this to encourage and give us the confidence to challenge ourselves even more. I was so lucky in the draw for CCC and realise that so many more hadn’t the same kind of luck. Because of this I will give the race all I can and surround my other racing around this race for the year.

Check out Highpoint Ireland on Twitter and Facebook for more links to Kieron Gribbons growing site.

I recovered from some form of a flu after Christmas and have launched back into training nicely in the last two weeks. We managed a double hit on Moylussa, the highest point in Co. Clare and some running in Portumna Forest Park last weekend on a two night road trip in the new camper. My camper will be referred to as, The Mueller, from now on. A very fitting name after our little cat Ferris Mueller who passed away during 2017. He was a full on adventurer and that is what I want this van to be.

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‘The Mueller’ at Moylussa, overlooking Lough Derg.

Midweek training has been made up of plenty watt biking, some interval running with the club, a few long runs and plenty gym time. I have averaged around 10 hours a week the last two weeks and hope to ramp that up a little for the next two weeks. First up is the Donadea 50km trail run in Kildare on the 10th of February, followed far too closely by Gaelforce Dublin on the 17th.

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There I am on the boardwalk near the top of Moylussa. Happy out!

The real question is What Lies Ahead in 2018? Well here is a taster for what I know for now and I may add to this a little as the year rolls on. Surrounding these events I hope to do some multisport races and a few more long runs.

As you can see there is a decent gap after Transvulcania and that will be partly due to the fact that I am moving to the UK in May. Then I want to train hard for the summer leading up to the CCC. Snowdonia will be a nice warm up marathon to see where I am mid summer.

A few more photos, thanks to Emma, from last weekend.

The list above really gives a clear idea of my goals, but all in all I want to stay fit and healthy, injury free and enjoy the move to the UK in 2018. It is a new challenge and one that I can’t wait to begin. No doubt we will return to Ireland but from May onwards my blog will start to venture around the UK. For the time being you will have to put up with lots more West of Ireland adventures.